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Lady Panthers down Vaughn

Lake Arthur seniors Champayne Diaz, Marisol Gonzales, Jazmin Pando, and Jaque Velo celebrate a big district win. (Evelin Orona Photo)

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LAKE ARTHUR – The Lake Arthur Lady Panther volleyball team came up with a huge win on their home court Thursday evening as they downed the Vaughn Eagles 25-19, 11-25, 28-26, 25-21 to clinch the runner-up spot in district 3-1A, but more importantly finally put to rest a dubious skid of losing district games. The Lady Panthers had not won a district game in five years and used a strong showing from their four seniors in their final home game to snap that streak and move to 5-11 on the year.

The Panthers played inspired ball in winning set one; survived a meltdown in set two; and then won the battle of attrition and nerves in sets three and four to win the match and the right to host a district playoff game – the first time since 2012.

“This is our first district win since 2012 and I’m very, very happy for our seniors,” stated a relieved coach Tim Shea. “They worked their butts off all year for this and to get a win in their last game for being seniors it was absolutely icing on the cake.”

The Eagles (5-7) got off to a quick 5-1 lead in the initial set until a kill by freshman Nayeli Caro stopped the run and got the hosts moving. The Panthers would tie the set at 6-all after a kill by 8th-grader Carla Lopez and then they would slowly take the lead. The Panthers would lead 9-8 after a service winner by Jaque Velo and then take control.

Jazmin Pando would serve up some winners to make it 14-9 and then the Panther hustle would shine as the score grew to 18-12. The Eagles’ Kyra Lozano, who would give the Panthers fits all evening, would serve up some bombs to cut the lead to 21-19, but the Panthers would get a kill by Lopez and the she would serve up three straight service winners to give Lake Arthur the 25-19 win.

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Set two was all Eagles as they ran out to a 10-1 lead and would watch the Panthers make error after error in a 25-11 whitewashing.

Set three was a very close, tense affair throughout. A Pando kill would tie the game at 3-all early as there would be many ties and lead changes in the set.

Both teams would swing away and do a good job defensively as Vaughn would use the hitting of Lozano to lead 11-9. Champayne Diaz would give the Panthers their first lead in a while with a kill down the middle as both teams tried to make a defining run.

The set would be tied at 22, 23, 24, 25, and 26 (both teams had opportunities to close out the set) until a great dig by Candace Romero made it 27-26 and Velo served up the last winner to garner the 28-26 win and keep the momentum heading into the fourth set.

The Panthers, who had lost in five sets earlier in Vaughn, jumped out quickly 7-1 after back-to-back kills by Lopez from the right and one from Pando from the left. With Tatiana Balerio floating over every serve, the score ballooned to 10-1. The Eagles would make a couple of runs to keep things interesting, but the Panthers managed to lead big 22-14.

Lozano then came to the service line and – seven winners later – it was 22-21. The Panthers would not fold and managed to get the side out and the final two points for the 25-21 win and the Lady Panthers could celebrate with their family, friends, and fans who had waited a long time for a coveted district win.

“We came out really hard in game one, but in game two, I like to use a quote from The Replacements is that we got stuck in quick sand and every time we took a step we got deeper and deeper in the quick sand and couldn’t get out,” explained Shea. “I told the girls all we could do was come out in the third game and fight and fight and that’s what they did and we got the big win that carried the momentum into the fourth game…and we finally got that monkey off our back in district.”

The victory gives the Panthers a home match on Halloween night with a rematch with Vaughn at 6 pm. The winner travels to district champ Hondo on Thursday with a state tourney berth awaiting the victor.

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